Recently, our resident three-year-old has started imitating me by cooking nonsensical versions of some of my favorite dishes in her play kitchen. She makes udon, pancakes, “fishies,” and sausages in her little purple kitchen, but her versions are always sweet and colorful. “WHICH COLOR PANCAKES YOU WANTS,” she demands, “we have blueberry, obers (whipped cream), lemon, and kaybatch.” (Ok, so those are not colors, but I choose ketchup, obviously.) Once your order is placed, she randomly turns knobs on the stove for a little while — everything takes two minutes to cook — and then asks for two dollars before you can taste the imaginary food. It’s all very adorable.
The other night she was banging her pots and pans around, and I asked what she was making. “I’m making BLUEBERRY CHICKEN,” she announced. “It’s おいしい (delicious) because it’s very, very あまい (sweet). You can have some in” — holding up fingers — “TWO MINUTES.” While I was eating my imaginary blueberry chicken off a doll-sized tea coaster, a thought occured to me: I wonder what would she do if I actually made a real blueberry chicken? Or any of the fruit-based monstrosities her sugar-obsessed little mind thinks up. So, I’ve decided that roughly once a week I’m going to cook an Imaginary Meal, depending, of course, on the quality and quantity of imaginary meals she produces.
Blueberry chicken is actually one of the more believable meals she’s sold me, and certainly seemed like a better place to start than “chocolate hot sauce brownies.” A quick Googlin’ confirmed that blueberry chicken is a dish, if not a particularly common one. The most attractive recipes I found were one from the US Blueberry Council — home to other recipes that sound like they came straight from the play kitchen, such as “blueberry chipotle barbecue chicken wings” and “blueberry grilled cheese” — and one from the Japanese mayonnaise company Kewpie, who apparently also produces a blueberry jam. The idea seemed easy enough: make or buy blueberry jam, season and fry some chicken thighs, and put the jam on top.
I decided to make the jam using the Blueberry Council’s recipe and the chicken using Kewpie’s — soy sauce, ginger, black pepper, carrots, and watercress — and serve it with some side dishes that she’s already used to: hijiki seaweed salad, shungiku with seasame, miso soup with taro, and rice. While I cooked she went into her kitchen and made “strawberry lemon udon” (next week’s recipe, perhaps?). The recipes were easy enough to follow and an hour or so later I presented her with blueberry chicken on a Minnie Mouse plate.
Her first reaction was, “WHAAAT? BLUEBERRY CHICKEN!? WHAAAT?” — suddenly becoming serious — “is that a nachspeise (dessert)?” Dessert is the most important thing in her little world. I assured her that it was not a nachspeise. She dipped a finger into the blueberry sauce and licked it. “So?” I asked. “It’s blueberry のあじ (flavor),” she answered, “buuuut, I want this” and ate a handful of hijiki. When she finally finished the hijiki and returned to the chicken, it turned out that I had made a bit of a mistake: I seasoned it with black pepper, one of the forbidden condiments. She insists that mustard and black pepper are too spicy, though she’ll happily eat Sichuan chili paste. But she is three, and once she realized that the chicken had been soiled with pepper, it was over. She ate everyone else’s hijiki, she drank her miso soup, she nibbled on the blueberry carrots, she even ate most of the shungiku — a minor miracle, maybe the first leafy green she’s ever not tried to spit out immediately — before finally returning to the chicken only when it was the last thing between her and nachspeise.
Meanwhile, the adults found the blueberry chicken to be perfectly pleasant, but not something either of us will be in any particular rush to eat again. The chicken thigh with its crispy skin was good, but the blueberry sauce was sweeter than either of us really wanted our dinner to be, despite my attempts to moderate it with soy sauce, ginger, and forbidden pepper. The jam recipe might turn out to be useful on its own, though; it’s surprisingly easy to make and seems like it would go quite nicely with Sunday morning pancakes.
Check back soon for the next episode of Imaginary Meals…